Alabama Senate Floor
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said today he expects legislators to pass “bare bones” education and General Fund budgets because of the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and does not expect those to include pay raises for educators and state employees that were expected before the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted the economy.
“I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news, but I think it would be irresponsible with the economic situation and uncertainty we’re in to put any increases on either budget,” Marsh said.
The Senate leader spoke with reporters after senators held a brief meeting Tuesday to officially suspend the legislative session until April 28 because of the pandemic. It was the Senate’s first meeting since March 12.
Marsh said he’s still confident that lawmakers will pass the budgets during the session, which must end by May 18 because of a constitutional limit of 105 days.
The budgets are for the fiscal year that begins Oct. `1.
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said he thinks legislators will need to wait closer to September to pass the budgets so they will have a clearer idea of how much the economic slowdown will reduce state revenues that support education, Medicaid, prisons, and other critical services.
Singleton did not disagree with Marsh’s point about dropping plans for the pay raises.
“I think it’s the reality,” Singleton said. “We have to look at the times that we’re in. Surely, we want to see raises as we basically projected prior to leaving here. But the reality is that this economy has taken a hit. And when we come back, we’ll have to look at it.”
Marsh said lawmakers would look for ways to help small businesses and people who have lost their jobs because of the economic impact of the pandemic. He said he would support legislation to extend unemployment limits back to a maximum of 26 weeks. Lawmakers passed a bill last year reducing the maximum to a range of 14 to 20 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate.
For months, Alabama’s unemployment levels have been at record lows. But unemployment claims have poured in since the outbreak began closing restaurants, bars, stores, and other businesses.
The federal relief package passed by Congress includes help for unemployed workers.